CRM Rescue – A TV Show That Would Fail?

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I see many similarities where transformational change is discussed, idealized, promoted and industrialized into nice, neat little packages. Since the advent of social media (and the 140 mentality), there has clearly been an effort to get the word out that CRM is not just software. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. We are clearly seeking that next new idea that will give us an advantage for a day or two; when we should be seeking a longer term view of our evolving value-chain, and capabilities required to target and adapt to required change.

I’m not a huge traditional television consumer. What I’ve tended to watch the past few years are reality-type business makeover shows like Bar Rescue. If you haven’t seen this show, it features a successful operator and consultant in the food and beverage world named Jon Taffer. What I find interesting is the science behind running a successful bar. You’ll hear him use the term systems quite a bit, and I like that kind of thinking. When he shows up at a failing bar, he has his hands full since none of them seem to have any systems, skilled employees or any sense of identity. Quite often, it seems to be a business run by someone who just wanted a place to party!



Well, wonder no more. Where there is an interest, there is a person with time on their hands to fill the gap. It’s pretty clear that quite a few of the rescued bars ended up closing; mostly from the first few seasons (a few years down the road). Many of those that remain open have marginal to poor reviews. Why is this? Does Jon Taffer suck as a bar consultant? It’s a little more complicated than that.

As with any company that hires a consultant, there is a high probability that any new operating models or systems will end up being consumed by the weeds of the past. Cultures do not change overnight; nor do personalities. Many of the problems that these bars face (and many companies face) start at the top. Poor leadership, understanding, and buy-in can undo everything that was done. It takes more than a few days, or a few months, to ensure that new ways of competing, and operating, become the de-facto business as usual. In the case of these bars, much of the transformation is simply to get them to capabilities that are considered table stakes by the competition.

The convenience of conforming to the way the rest of the market does things is very powerful (and they can’t even do that); yet a completely different capability is required to gain a long-term strategic advantage. Given the recent research that suggests that genes and culture co-evolve, we need to recognize that the envelope needs to be pushed, but also recognize that the culture of an organization will not naturally reorganize around some narrative or system overnight. The successful consultants (and business leaders) understand that it takes years, and that building a new organization can’t be done in a big bang fashion. A certain momentum must be maintained over time; and Bar Rescue is big bang!

I’m sure Jon Taffer would approach things differently if he actually owned the bars. In other words, he wouldn’t walk away after 3-5 days to let the old culture and/or behaviors resurface when pressure situations arise. He would build wave upon wave of capabilities to ensure the business is growing and profitable in the long run. Eventually, these televised situations lead to a business fully defaulting back to the comfort zone of mediocrity or failure. It seems like reversion to the mean applies in many contexts.



In many ways, Bar Rescue is CRM Rescue since the show is all about aligning the business to the realities of the local market’s potential customers and the experiences they are seeking. Any business has to do that; the only difference is that a single retail establishment like a bar needs to cater to the local community; whereas other businesses can define segments on a global basis. You still need to understand your customer’s needs: functional, social and emotional. Markets aren’t being created on this show, share is simply being acquired. Clearly, though, this industry is an exemplar for the importance of customer experience; and we can all relate to it.

Bar Rescue spends more of its time talking about maximizing profitable behavior and engagement of the patrons using product placement, bar layout and other factors that motivate people to stay longer, order more, and return again: table stakes. As with many businesses, the magic of understanding markets and segments tends to get overshadowed and/or deemed as magic; so the focus moves to short term manipulations in behavior first, and strategic analysis almost never. I doubt even Jon Taffer could teach his decades of experience in market analysis to a biker-turned-bar-owner in a few days. Even basic operating systems seem to fall apart in many of these rescues once he leaves.

The type of work being done in the corporate world to gain strategic advantage doesn’t always work either. And when it does work, it could only be portrayed in something epic; not a 30-60 minute episode. It would bore most people, and fascinate a few. As a whole, we seem to want quick fixes. But the reality is that CRM does succeed on television because shows like Bar Rescue, Restaurant Impossible and Hotel Impossible have been on for years now. These shows clearly cater not only to people in those industries, something can also be learned by anyone. The shows are successful; the approach to rescuing these business is probably not.



What I would really like to see is how someone like Jon Taffer runs their own properties over time (or how his delegates do). What kind of monitoring is done to understand shifts in the local market and/or new concepts and technology emerge? He is clearly successful; but while boring, we could learn a lot more from those operations than from these highly sensationalized quick-fixes.

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